A few thoughts from Qatar: Is Rossi back? Did Marquez surprise? Is 2013 going to be exciting?

Prior to the event many journalists, pundits, fans and riders spoke about how the first round of the MotoGP World Championship would provide the much awaited answers to three key questions floating in

the air since around the half-way point of last season: Would MotoGP be boring without Casey Stoner? Will Valentino Rossi be competitive on a Yamaha? Is Marc Marquez really going to do as well as everyone

Is Marc Marquez the wonderkid
everyone predicts him to be?

seems to think? The first question can essentially be answered by the answer to the latter two, along with a few other added variables so we’ll start with the last question and work our way up the list. 

Was Marc Marquez really as fast as everyone thought he was going to be? The answer is a simple yes. Did anyone really doubt that Marc Marquez was going to be fast? Marc Marquez is 20 years old, he’s 20 years old and he has 2 world championships to his name, it would have been 3 had he not fallen in the latter stages of the 2011 campaign, giving Stefan Bradl a clear run at the Moto2 championship for that year. He had also signed a contract to ride the fastest motorcycle in MotoGP, the Honda. Of course Marc Marquez was going to be fast. Was anybody really surprised when he topped two practice sessions? Impressed, yes. Surprised, why would you be? The question should never have been whether Marquez would be fast or not, the question should always have been would his raw speed be developed into a sustainable race pace over 25 laps and if it was, would Marquez be able to handle it or would he push too hard and fall, just as we saw in his first year of Moto2? The answer to both these questions is yes, he did develop his speed into a sustainable race pace and yes he could handle it and didn’t end up in the gravel. What’s more is that Marquez didn’t just develop a sustainable race pace, he developed an incredible race pace. He set the fastest lap of the race, when he eventually got past, after clearly waiting, cautious not to make a hard move on his new team mate, he pulled a significant gap on his experienced counterpart. Marquez must have been taken to his limits, he was challenged by one of the hardest racers of recent times, Valentino Rossi and the little Spaniard did not give up, yet he didn’t fall like a lot of us were expecting. 

He looked lost on the podium; it was like he really couldn’t believe he’d done it. He couldn’t believe he’d just beaten his much more experienced team mate and one of the title favourites, Dani Pedrosa. He couldn’t believe he’d just given Valentino Rossi, the greatest racer of at least the last decade a run for his money in a fight for second place. He couldn’t believe he’d just finished his first Grand Prix in the elite class on the podium. But be honest, you could believe it, despite being slightly surprised the Spaniard fought damn well in a scrap with Valentino Rossi. Marc Marquez is the next big thing in MotoGP, there’s no doubt he’ll do some silly things this year, like falling out of the lead of a race or perhaps even knocking someone off. He’s 20 years old, he’s on a MotoGP bike capable of speeds over 214mph (yes, that’s how fast he went down the straight at Qatar), he’s bound to make some mistakes but he’ll make up for them in an unbelievable fashion. 
Was Valentino Rossi competitive on a Yamaha? It almost looked not to be, it looked like he’d lost his bottle in the first few laps – trying everything he could to pass Dovizioso on the Ducati. Surely if he’d engaged his

Does he still have it?

brain he’d have known Dovizioso had about as much chance of remaining in third for longer than 2 laps as Colin Edwards winning the title on his CRT machine. Perhaps the desperation was to get to the front before Lorenzo took off, but Dovi was 5th by the 3rd lap and Lorenzo’s lead at this point was just nearing a second – there was no logical reason for desperation which led to him running wide and finding himself 7th. The best thing about Rossi is you can read his body language so easily and it was so obvious how frustrated he was behind Stefan Bradl, unable to overtake but then something clicked, Rossi just turned on, perhaps it just took him those 10 or so laps to switch back into racing mode but by heck once that switch had been flicked man turned into machine. Once he was passed Bradl he began to break down the 4 second gap to the battle for 2nd between the two Hondas and Crutchlow and when he got there, with 4 laps remaining he picked them off, one by one to get himself into second. Crutchlow gave a little bit of a fight; Pedrosa did no such thing and as already mentioned, Marc Marquez gave the Doctor a run for his money. This recovery showed several things, A) Valentino Rossi can clearly still competitively race a motorcycle, B) Valentino Rossi still has that impeccable knack of conserving his tyres perfectly – fighting his way from as far back as 7th and reaching the podium battle with 4 to go. 

With the way things turned out, Rossi was probably glad to have made the initial mistakes – there could only have been one other circumstance that showed he really still had it to the extent fighting from 7th to 2nd did and that’s getting to the front and running with, perhaps beating Lorenzo. Something that Rossi claims would have been impossible due to the Spaniard’s perfection. If Rossi had not made the mistakes and circulated with the Hondas and Crutchlow, even got on the podium it wouldn’t have been half as impressive as the way in which it actually happened. In fact, if Rossi had circulated with Crutchlow and the Hondas all race and got on the podium – the question of whether he still “had it” probably wouldn’t have a definitive answer. He’s a 9 time World Champion on the best bike on the grid – he should be able to put it on the podium with his eyes closed but no, you have to be something special to do what Rossi did on Sunday and let’s face it, Qatar’s a track he’s never been all that strong at… It’s early days, but it’s looking good for Valentino. 
Is MotoGP boring without Casey Stoner? Sorry, who? The emergence of Marc Marquez and the resurrection of Valentino Rossi gave us one of the most exciting GP races since Barcelona 2009, even if

MotoGP is exciting, yes; because of these two.

Jorge Lorenzo did clear off into the distance by about 5 seconds, Stoner-style – so he wasn’t even missed in that respect. Although, you have to ask – was MotoGP exciting with Casey Stoner? Yes, he was exciting to watch but the problem with the era of Stoner and Lorenzo, Pedrosa too is there is usually an early getaway, a reeling-in period and then a race winning overtake (it sometimes took a couple of tries, but not many) and this made the racing aspect of MotoGP bloody boring. With the likes of Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez at the front, as they showed in Qatar and have shown previously, they’re both racers who’ll do whatever it takes to maintain the better position, no matter who is trying to take it from them. What’s more is there are other riders PaddockChatter believes to have a similar mind-set – Cal Crutchlow for one, he’d stop at nothing to get on the podium. Stefan Bradl is another, he fell, pushing his limits trying to keep up with Valentino Rossi  in the twisty sections of Qatar, he’s clearly determined to put that factory supported RC213V to good use, especially as it could well be Pedrosa’s last season at Repsol should he not perform. Of course, whilst Jorge may like to disappear into the distance, or reel in a competitor and make one affirmative, race winning move let’s not forget he has shown he can give as good as he got. Brno, 2012 with Pedrosa – Motegi, 2010 and Barcelona, 2009 with Rossi. The smooth Spaniard might have to accept that if he’s to retain the title in 2013 it’ll be through more martillo than mantequilla. 

Qatar has set the bar high for 2013 and it can only be hoped that the standard of racing will remain the same or perhaps get even better. Several questions have arisen from the Qatari dust, though. How long will it be until Cal Crutchlow gets that podium? How will Pedrosa, known for being a rider to struggle under pressure, deal with his new team mate beating him, especially if it becomes a repeated occurrence? Perhaps the juiciest question of all from Qatar is – What the hell is going on with Ben Spies? 
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